Effective Business Writing

Writing effectively means your message is unambiguous and your reader knows what to do next. Effective business writing is clear, concise and courteous.

Writing clearly

– Use an objective sentence
Give your reason for writing in your first sentence so your reader immediately understands why you’re writing. (See Writing a business letter for examples.)

– Keep sentences grammatically simple
If you’re writing to an international audience, minimize the risk of misunderstandings by avoiding complicated constructions such as “not only, but…” or “in spite of the fact that…”

If in doubt, use simple word order principles when you write, such as the SVOMPT principle:
Subject Verb Object (Manner Place Time)
“I am writing to confirm our meeting on Tuesday at 3pm.”

Write short sentences, with one idea in each sentence. Avoid using too many commas or brackets / parentheses, which can make your sentences over-long.

– Don’t write with over-formal words
Use general business words rather than old-fashioned formal words. For example, avoid “above-mentioned” (use “above”); “herewith” and “hereby” (you can normally delete these without changing the meaning of the sentence); and “hitherto” (use “up to now”).

– Check your writing before you send it
Check your spelling and make sure your punctuation is correct. Avoid shortening words too much (wld; pls etc), as this can make your reader spend time trying to understand what you want to say.

Make sure, too, that you’ve answered any questions fully and that the information is complete.

Concise business writing

– Plan what want to write before you start writing.
Put your points into paragraphs before you start, so that you only write what’s relevant and you can avoid repeating the same ideas.

– Find shorter ways of expressing yourself
You can often express your ideas with modal verbs (might, could, would etc) instead of using longer phrases.
Here are some ways you can use modals instead of longer phrases:
It is likely to / There is the likelihood that = We may / We might / it may / it might
It is unlikely to happen = It might not happen
There is a necessity to / It is necessary to = We must / We have to
For ability = can / can’t
There is a possibility that = We can / We could

– Edit out unnecessary words
Replace wordy phrases by single words where possible.
“as of the date of” = from
“by means of” = by
“at this moment in time” = now
“for the purpose of” = for
“so as to” = so
“in the event that” = if
“further to” = following

Avoid words that add no meaning. For example, “very” can usually be deleted without changing the meaning. For example, you can write “expensive” instead of “very expensive” without losing any extra meaning. Other words that can generally be deleted to make your writing more concise are “really” and “absolutely”.

– Write using verbs rather than noun clauses
Verbs give your business writing more impact than heavy-sounding noun phrases. For example, use “discuss” instead of “have a discussion”.
Other examples of this are “have a meeting” (meet), “give consideration to” (consider) and “be of concern to” (concern)

– Avoid cliches
Cliches make you sound unimaginative. Examples of cliches are “to all intents and purposes”, “to think outside the box” and “to push the envelope”. If you have made a plan before you write so that you only include relevant information, then you don’t need to add cliches to “pad” out your message.

How to write courteously
Being polite is not just a question of remembering to use please or thank you. It’s also about the tone you use when you write. To make sure that your writing is polite, put yourself in your reader’s shoes to anticipate what you reader will think when they read your letter or email,. Could your message be interpreted differently to your intended meaning? Does it sound rude or unhelpful?

– Acknowledge letters and emails
If someone has taken the time and trouble to write to you, it’s only polite to reply within a day or so. If you can’t answer the person within this time frame, write something short to let them know you will answer more fully later.
“Thanks for your email. I’ll get back to you within the next day / tomorrow / next week.”

If you’re going on holiday and will be away for more than a few days, consider setting up an autoresponder to reply automatically to emails.

– Thank someone for their work or input
If someone has put in time to quote for a project or to give you some information, make sure you thank them. Making someone feel appreciated means that they are more likely to want to do business with you in the future.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get the project, but thanks for your work.”
“Thank you for finding me the information about X. I really appreciate your help.”

– Show you care
Even if you cannot help a person, avoid sounding unfriendly or direct.
“We are sorry to inform you that we are no longer manufacturing this item.”
“We would like to apologize for this misunderstanding.”

Introduce bad news to soften the impact:
“Unfortunately, the company has decided to close its offices in New York.”
“We regret to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful.”

– Write using polite phrases
Avoid making demands with phrases like I want. Instead write:
“I would like some information on your range of printers.”
“I would be grateful for some information on your range of printers.”
“I would appreciate your help with an order.”

– Be tentative rather than dogmatic.
Make suggestions and requests rather than giving orders, such as “Perhaps you could consider…” or “Could you let us know your ideas on…” and keep negotiations open by using would rather than is / are. For example, “These prices would be too low” rather than “Your prices are too low”.

– Use past forms to put distance between you and the other person and to make you sound less definite.
“We were hoping for…” (rather than “We are hoping for…”)
“We wanted to know…” (rather than “We want to know…”)

– Be neutral rather than confrontational
Reduce the impact of a criticism by replacing a negative adjective by ‘not very’ + positive adjective.
Write “Your customer service representatives are not very polite” instead of “Your customer service representatives are rude.”

Use words with a positive focus instead of a negative focus.
“issue” or “matter” (instead of “problem”)
“inconvenience” / “inconvenient” (rather than “difficulty” or “difficult”)
“misunderstanding” (rather than “argument”)
“sensitive” (to describe an issue that you would rather not discuss)
“unfortunate” or “disappointing” (rather than “bad”)

Minimize problems by using qualifiers such as “rather”, “a little”, “somewhat” or “a slight”.
“We have a problem with the account” becomes “We have a slight problem with the account.”

– Avoid “you”
Change the focus of the sentence to avoid sounding as if you are accusing the reader. Instead of writing “you”, write “there” or “we”.
“You made a mistake” becomes “There seems to be a mistake.”
“You said” becomes “We understood.”